Scenes From The Big Picture, National Theatre, Cottesloe, London, ****

A colourful slice of Belfast life

An award should be given to whoever conceived the idea of teaming the up-and-coming Northern Irish dramatist, Owen McCafferty, with the veteran director, Peter Gill. McCafferty may hail from Belfast, and Gill from Cardiff, but there are clearly strong creative affinities. Gill's flair for getting inside the daily lives of the denizens of the Welsh capital in a play such as Cardiff East is matched by the intuitive understanding and humane insights that McCafferty now brings to bear on the inhabitants of Belfast.

The playwright made his mark with Closing Time, one of the best of last year's Transformation season at the National. A sort of "Long Night's Boozing Into Day", it stayed firmly put in the one seedy Belfast pub. Scenes from the Big Picture, by contrast, hops around, interweaving stories almost like a soap opera, as it presents a panoramic picture of Belfast existence. It takes a "life in the day of" approach, and if ever there was a justification-in-action for public subsidy of theatre, it is the cast of 20 superb performers that this production has thereby been able to afford.

The show presents a community, and the production brilliantly reinforces this by its own communal procedures. When not themselves acting, the members of the cast sit and watch on a row of chairs at the front of the stalls, leaping up to effect the scene-changes – from pub to corner shop to meat plant – on Alison Chitty's striking blue set. These changes are, in themselves, little dramas of urban choreography, played out to the sounds (alarms, pneumatic drills) of street life.

The Troubles are an issue in these people's lives, but Scenes – where the sectarian divide is scarcely mentioned – is not an issue-play. Instead, its focus is the private lives impinged upon by politics, and the tone is often tragicomic in a way that's reminiscent of Sean O'Casey. On the day of their father's funeral, two feuding brothers are sponged off for drinks by a couple of topers who barely knew (still less, loved) their dad. The disreputable comedy of that darkens, though, when the brothers unearth a cache of arms on the paternal allotment.

It's not the only thing uncovered on this day. Theresa, the manager of the meat plant, is having difficulty paying the workers, and the spectre of short-term contracts looms. Then the news comes that the police have found the body of her long-missing son. She had kept her marriage together by just buckling down; now the scab on her grief is torn away.

The stories intersect in droll and sad ways. The man who runs a corner shop, who is terrorised by druggie vandals, believes that Belfast's cab drivers are all dealers. So it amuses the man who actually is a dealer, to give the shopkeeper's wife a lift to the hospital in a car stuffed with drugs.

It would be invidious to single out particular performers. They are all excellent, right down to the youngest. Usually, when a cast has to watch the show as well as act in it, you feel it must become a bore for them. Here, though, you reckon it must be one of the perks of the job.

To 21 June (020-7452 3000)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum